Submitted by Chris Machell, Detective Chief Superintendent, Northumbria Police (CA 188)
Operation Rose, an enquiry conducted by Northumbria Police into allegations of Historic Sexual and Physical Child Abuse within care homes throughout the North East of England, began in 1997.
The investigation commenced after a woman in her twenties disclosed to a Social Worker, that she and a friend had both been subjected to Sexual and Physical abuse whilst they were residents in a Newcastle upon Tyne care home.
After a multi-agency meeting between Police, Newcastle Social Services and the NSPCC, officers set out to fully investigate the claims. Initial enquiries revealed that six victims were alleging abuse by eight suspects who had been employed in a total of seven Care Homes within four Local Authority areas. Some of these allegations dated back to the 1960s. The investigation rapidly expanded to 10 victims and 20 Children's Homes.
Following best practice established in other areas, Northumbria Police established that the only manageable way of developing the enquiry would be to seek information from a fixed proportion of residents in each of the Care Homes.
Without revealing the nature of their investigations, the enquiry team wrote to 10 per cent of former residents, informing them that an enquiry had commenced into a Home at which they were once resident, and asking them if they had any information which might help. One third of the recipients replied either saying they had information or stating that they did not wish the police to contact them.
The courts subsequently upheld the process, accepting that the letter simply sought information and did not make suggestions to the recipients. No complaints of malpractice were received and no allegations of collusion between victims has been upheld.
In 1998, the enquiry was broadened to include renewed allegations concerning Carers working at Witherwack House, Sunderland, which had been subject to an earlier investigation in 1992.
Six people were found guilty of a variety of charges and sentenced to a total of 20 years imprisonment, including one 12 month sentence suspended for two years. Three suspected died prior to trial. A number of cases were halted because the judiciary deemed that the length of time taken for the cases to reach court breached Article 6 of the Human Rights Act, which requires a hearing within a reasonable time.
Many delays, however, occurred because of adjournments made at the request of defence lawyers and the courts themselves. One "fast track" case—which should have been heard in 96 days took 33 months to come to court, despite all necessary Police work being completed within the required deadlines. The final trial arising out of the Operation Rose investigation concluded in April 2002.
All the agencies involved in the enquiry, including the Crown Prosecution Service and the counselling services provided for victims, have since reviewed the processes involved in the investigation. Some of the "Good Practice Pointers" have been summarised as requested and are attached to this letter.
My views in relation to four of the five specific questions contained in the committee's press notice accord with those expressed by Mr Grange on behalf of ACPO. Question two is a matter for the CPS I believe.
Good Practice Recommendations Generated from Operation Rose
1. *Early consultation, via the National Crime Faculty, with officers who have investigated similar allegations elsewhere.
2. *Involvement of Crown Prosecution Service from the outset
3. *Consider tape recording all victims interviews, not just children.
4. *Appointment of a team of prosecution barristers to handle all cases.
5. *Judicial processes to focus on speedy resolution of cases.
6. *Development of a national protocol for the recording of unused material.
7. *Social Services departments to consider retention of staff discipline records.
8. *Co-ordinated support for victims before, during and after enquiries.
9. *The "Abuse of Process" point inextricably linked to unused material. There must be greater awareness within all agencies of this issue and a review of their record keeping policies.
10. *Protocols similar to those with Social Services should be put in place with Health Professionals and counselling services for easier access to records.